Finding What Works. By: Tyre, Peg, Newsweek, 00289604, 4/25/2005, Vol. 145, Issue 17
Finding What Works
Medication helps many kids. But it's hard to know which drugs for which kids.
Hunter Walrath's parents were hopeful when a child psychiatrist prescribed Concerta for their 9-year-old son. A bright, highly verbal boy, Hunter has a laundry list of disabilities: he suffers from ADHD, faulty executive functioning, dyslexia and emotional problems that suggest Asperger's syndrome. His limited attention span and poor impulse control made him an outcast at school. But the Concerta, his parents say, had little effect. His doctor upped the dose, but still, Hunter struggled. A few months later, when the doctor switched Hunter to a cocktail of Ritalin and Strattera, their boy's behavior changed--but not for the better. He gained 25 pounds and his outbursts in class grew more intense. Back on Concerta, Hunter has improved and is starting a new school, but the Walraths are shaken. "Sometimes we wondered," says John Walrath. "Are the doctors making this up as they go along?"
The Walrath's aren't alone on the medication merry-go-round. In the last decade, the number of psychoactive medications available to children has more than tripled. And increasing numbers of children are taking the drugs, too. In a national study completed this February, the New York University's Child Study Center found that 15 percent of parents with children between the ages of 5 and 18 reported giving their kids psychoactive medication daily.
When they work, psychoactive medications can be a godsend. But John Walrath wonders if Hunter's medical team "had a solid understanding" of his son's complex interplay of issues. "Those doctors' visits are fleeting," he says. Experts share the concern. In the Child Study Center survey, about 28 percent of parents who gave their kids drugs deemed the treatment "somewhat unhelpful" or "extremely unhelpful." "We find this worrisome," says Dr. Harold...